Technology for low-carbon vehicles has come through in leaps and bounds over the last five years, says Cenex CEO Robert Evans.
Cenex, a government-backed agency set up to promote UK market development in low-carbon and fuel-cell transport technologies, organised LCV2012, a showcase event held at Millbrook Proving Ground in early September.
Speaking to E&T at the event, Evans said: “The first show in 2008 had a range of low-carbon vehicles, but they were really expressions of what the potential could be.
Today we have 60 or more vehicles, including commercially available vehicles that you can buy from your local dealership; that is a huge breakthrough. And we have a whole range of technology demonstrators: we have fuel-cell vehicles on display, we have battery electric, we have the latest hybrid electric vehicles, then we have gas vehicles – we’re seeing the re-emergence of interest in alternative fuels – and vehicles where you’re trying to get the benefit of full lightweighting linked to electric and hybrid electric powertrains.”
Evans attributes these achievements to a consensus across the industry to focus on low-carbon as a challenge and an opportunity, coupled with strong support from the government, which has led to a programme of 200-300 collaborative R&D projects.
These have seen the big car companies come together with smaller players and universities to produce the next-generation technologies, and have brought in companies that would not traditionally have supplied the automotive industry.
Many of the earlier projects have now reached completion, with their outputs on show at Millbrook. Examples included three range-extended electric vehicles developed by the REEVolution consortium, consisting of Jaguar Land Rover, Lotus Engineering and Nissan Motor Co with technology partners Axeon, Xtrac and EVO Electric. This project, to develop advanced electric powertrains for high-performance vehicles, was funded under the Technology Strategy Board’s Integrated Delivery Programme to build relationships between businesses and strengthen the UK automotive supply chain.
Evans acknowledges that the market for pure electric passenger cars is still “latent”, but Cenex is working with fleet managers, who are interested in analysing the whole-life costs of electric vans in the logistics and distribution sectors, looking at the trade-off between a higher purchase price and lower operating and maintenance costs.
Much of the initial price premium of electric vehicles can be attributed to the battery. Whilst that will fall with economies of scale, there is an acknowledged need for technology improvements to increase energy densities and reduce weight, with configurations tailored to meet different vehicle requirements such as high energy storage or high power output.
Addressing these concerns, newly-appointed business minister Michael Fallon used LCV2012 to announce funding for a new Energy Storage R&D Centre to develop improved battery technologies for electric and hybrid vehicles.